At this point Rihanna is pretty much the biggest pop star on the planet, so when she drops an album it’s a really big deal. No surprise, then, that her seventh album is launching with maximum fanfare. She performed two new songs this weekend on Saturday Night Live. Today she will board a chartered Boeing 777 with representatives of her management company, Roc Nation, her record label, Island Def Jam, and her fan club, the Rihanna Navy, as well as a select group of media (including Complex‘s own Soo-Young Kim) to fly around the world and rip stages in 7 cities over 7 days. Welcome to Rihanna’s life.
Last Friday at the 40/40 Club in Manhattan we finally (after checking our cell phones and recording devices at the door, and donating to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort) got a chance to listen to the music itself. We did our best not to be swayed by the $18 glasses of wine (get that money, Jay!) or by all the fly ladies and industry poobahs in the building, or by the image of Rihanna smoking blunts filled with diamonds on a jumbo screen—not even by Rihanna herself when she strolled in the club near the end of the session—but our three word review of this album (if we wrote three-word reviews) would be: “Believe the hype.”
Unapologetic sounds like Rihanna’s best album yet. Also her most uninhibited, which is saying a whole lot.
Note that we said “best” and not merely “biggest.” As successful as her previous releases have been, this one will likely be even more mega. It’s stacked with A-list writers and producers—including features from Eminem, Future, and Chris Brown—and it taps into the pop music zeitgeist via every conceivable format and subgenre without feeling forced or contrived. Yep, Unapologetic is going to be a monster.
But it’s also better: more cohesive, more listenable from top to bottom than any of her previous efforts. Like many pop superstars, Rihanna has always been more of a singles artist than someone who created fully conceived albums. But Unapologetic is something else. The name of the game is making the audience believe you believe the words you’re singing. But the fact is that these songs sound rawer and more personal than anything she’s done in the past.